Matt Willis is a man so overflowing with positivity, it’s almost indecent. Speaking to The Guide about the return of his band Busted, his Tiggerish enthusiasm is infectious.
The trio, completed by Charlie Simpson and James Bourne, released Night Driver, their first album in 13 years, late last year. And while its release was not greeted by the hysteria new Busted product once was, the bassist and vocalist insists they’re quite happy with that.
‘Things are great – really awesome,’ he says. ‘It’s been incredible, this record means a lot to us, it’s the beginning of something brand new for Busted, and I think you can hear that in it.’
The band scored huge hits with the bubblegum pop punk of What I Go To School For, Year 3000 and the Thunderbirds film theme song. Both of their first two albums went triple platinum.
But Simpson left the band, triggering its end, on Christmas Eve 2004, to pursue a career with his new hard-rock band Fightstar. It was a classic case of ‘musical differences’. For years, Bourne and Willis didn’t speak to their erstwhile frontman. However, time is the great healer, and relationships were slowly rebuilt.
Still, it was a surprise to many when the reunited band announced a massive tour last year, called aptly enough Pigs Can Fly.
‘When we went out on that last tour, we opened with a new song called Coming Home, which is the first song on the new album. We wanted to make a statement of intent, we wanted to say: “We’re back, but look, we’re not just cashing in on nostalgia. We’re doing this because we are really excited about this new music we’re making and we can’t wait for you to hear it,”
‘We did that last tour to generate the money to record this album.
‘We went off and recorded this whole album with no record label, and then we took the finished album to the record company and said: “Do you like it? If you like it you can sign it”.
‘There’s no messing about with it, we didn’t want to have to worry about trying to write a song for radio or for this and that. We’re sick of playing other people’s games, we want to do what makes us creatively happy.’
This record means a lot to us, it’s the beginning of something brand new for Busted, and I think you can hear that in itMatt Willis
After the tour, the band decamped to Los Angeles to work on the new album with producer John Fields. They tried writing in the studio for the first time – going in in the morning with nothing, and emerging at the end of day with a new song. The result was an album of synthpop – a sharp departure from their earlier guitar-led sound.
‘The sound, that happened really organically. When we went to the studio to make the new album, we pretty much scrapped everything we’d been working on before that. It was just an amazing, incredible experience.
‘About 90 per cent of this record was written on an old synthesiser called a Juno 60, which is pretty synonymous with those big ’80s records. It was an integral part of this album.’
What was it like being back in the studio together after all that time?
‘It was completely different than anything I remember. We went in there in a completely different mindset to anything we’d done before.
‘We went in there with no pressure because no-one knew we were doing it – no-one knew we were making this record, so if it didn’t work out, we could just walk away.’
And whatever differences they had, Matt says they’ve thrashed them out.
‘I always felt like Busted had something unfinished. It never really felt like I closed that door - and with Charlie, I heard him say it at least eight times to the press that he would, fundamentally, never go back to Busted.
‘We’ve talked about it and he said: “You know what? I meant it every time I said it”, and he genuinely did, but life just changes. Your opinions change, your mind changes.
‘Once we got into a room together again, something about the three of us talking about music, it was like, this is exciting, you know?’ His voice rises: ‘This is really exciting!
‘We knew we had to do something and Charlie was up for trying.’
This new relaxed approach extends to the band’s future – with Matt comparing it to ‘an open relationship,’ and they’re already looking at album four, but he adds: ‘We’re not married, we’re not in any legal contract, we’re just having fun.
‘If after that record and we’re all still having a good time, then we’ll go and make another one. But maybe in two or three years’ time I might want to go and do something else, or Charlie might want to go and do something else, and that’s totally cool.
‘That’s what so great now - we’re all encouraging of each other about that stuff, because we want each other to be happy and then go and do that for a year and we’ll do another Busted record after that.’
The latest 24-date tour may see them stepping down from the enormodomes that were once their homes, but even that is fine with the lads. ‘I can’t wait – without being cocky we haven’t played this size venue for years. This tour really feels like the start of this new journey for us.
‘We’ve changed everything. We’ve changed the whole team, we’ve changed the sound. This is going to be our core fanbase coming to these shows and we’ve got show them what they’re getting into with Busted and take them on this journey with us.’
n Busted play Portsmouth Guildhall on Monday, February 13. Doors 7pm. Tickets £33.20. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk